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Doc Maturity?

In his classic and highly referenced but much vilified paper, “Managing The Development Of Large Software Systems“,  Winston Royce says:

Occasionally I am called upon to review the progress of other software design efforts. My first step is to investigate the state of the documentation. If the documentation is in serious default my first recommendation is simple. Replace project management. (D’oh!)

Before going further, let me establish the “context” of the commentary that follows so that I can make a feeble attempt to divert attacks from any extremist agilistas who may be reading this post.  Like Mr. Royce,  I will be talking about computationally-intensive software intended for use in these and other closely related types of application domains:

spacecraft mission planning, commanding, and post-flight analysis

Ok, are we set to move on with his shared contextual understanding? Well then, let’s go!

The figure below shows what should happen on a well run, large, defense/aerospace industry system development project. As the recorded info artifact set matures (see the post-post note below), productivity increases and the need for face-to-face communication decreases (but never goes to zero ala the “over-the-wall” syndrome).

Using this graph as a reference point, here’s what often happens, no?

On big, complex projects, mature but incomplete/inconsistent/ambiguous documentation tends to cause an unmanageable increase in face-to-face communication frequency (and decrease in face-to-face communication quality) as schedule-pressured people frantically try to figure out what needs to be built and what elements they’re personally responsible for creating, building, and integrating into the beast. Since more and more time is spent communicating inefficiently, less time is available for productive work. In the worst case, productivity plummets to zero and all subsequent investment dollars go down the rat hole…. until the project “leaders” figure out how to terminate the mess without losing face.

Note: Since “maturity” normally implies “high quality”, and that’s not what I’m trying to convey on the x axis, I tried to concoct a more meaningful x axis label. “Documentation Quantity” came to mind, but that doesn’t fit the bill either because it would imply that quantity == quality in the first reference graph. Got any suggestions for improvement?

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